Monthly Archives: January 2014

Aging When Your Body is Your Commodity

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When I was 9 years old (nearly 10), in the summer of 1979, my grandparents took me to see Sally Rand perform at a venue in Albuquerque, NM. I remember it as being the Convention Center, but I’ve also heard that she performed at the Kivo Theater. I think my recollection is correct, because we were not seated for the performance. My father’s mother told me, breathlessy through her Binaca flavored breath and her bleeding coral lipstick, that Sally Rand was a “famous fan dancer, a stripper who was very sexy.”

I can say that a ten year old does not, really, know what to do with that information. (Why was this an outing my parents allowed me to go on? I don’t know. I wouldn’t have allowed any of my children to ever go anywhere with my father’s parents, but it was a different time and my parents were entirely unable to really stand up to them). Yet, there we were, standing in a small crowd of mostly polyester clad adults. I have a hazy recollection of burgundy polyester leisure pants and the like, maybe even white shoes.

I had been told that the key to Sally’s act was that she was naked, but she kept these giant fans moving in a way that allowed only the tiniest glimpses of her body. She was a pioneer who is still revered today among those who practice burlesque. In her prime, she was very, very famous and many people my grandparents’ age recalled her as a strong erotic influence of the times.

This day, at the not-at-all glamorous convention center, Sally was 75 years old. I can’t remember where the music came from, but as she danced I could see that she was wearing a full, nude-colored body stocking. She still had bleached blonde hair, and wore the same makeup she’d worn her entire life to perform. The fans were huge, lovely ostrich feathers that gently molted here and there.

I recall being moderately horrified. I couldn’t decide if the body stocking were a good thing (“No one wants to see drooping boobs” I could imagine my father saying), or if Sally Rand was cheating us out of the true spectacle. She was not able, as she was when younger, to really keep the fans going fast enough to disguise her body, and I could see flabby arms and wrinkly hands that contrasted oddly with the smoothness of the body stocking.

In my mind, Sally’s face and my father’s mother’s face have morphed. Bleeding lipstick on lips thinned by age. Makeup and hair coiffed in styles too youthful to fool anyone. Large breasts that required significant architecture to hold them aloft. I can’t really see one without the other.

Once her performance was finished, she came back out, and while I think of her as only in the body stocking she must have put on a robe or something. She grabbed the mike stand and laboriously dragged it closer to herself, and then she thanked everyone for coming. Except, she was breathless, and had to pause between every one or two words. Was she pulling an oxygen tank, or am I imagining that because it seemed she should have one? She sounded so weak, and sick, and I felt shocked that she would perform in this condition.

A few weeks later, she died of congestive heart failure in California. By that time I had turned 10, and seeing the article in the paper made me feel even more confused; why, if she was about to die, was she struggling to move some fans around in a tawdry convention center while a bunch of people stood around staring like you would at an accident?

As an adult, I often think about that strange experience, and how sad it was to see the physical ruin as she wheezed into a microphone. Instead of someone leaping to her aid as she struggled to breathe, we all stared, impatient for her to finish talking. She died deeply in debt, which suggests to me that  she might not have been enjoying those last performances, and simply needed the money.

I had occasion to recall that episode last night, when I had the privilege of meeting an actor who was also, in her prime, an icon of sexiness–a Hollywood blonde with full lips and big boobs and sass. Those days are behind her, and she is within a year of being the same age Sally Rand was when I saw her. This actor has found other venues and is not, any longer, trading on her status as a sex object directly, but I would guess that no matter what she does now, her ability to be recognized is based in her original status as a sexy bombshell.

However, I felt the same sudden tenderness for her that I once felt for Sally Rand as a shocked and uncertain 9 year old. There was a chance to meet the actor, and we did. Someone whispered that she, “doesn’t like cameras, NO cameras.” She, too, has maintained the same blonde hair that was part of her trademark, but as we stood before her I could see that she is missing large patches that she combs the rest over. She appears to have had a terrifying amount of plastic surgery. Her lips are still full but unnaturally so, and they seemed like they were stretched too wide. She looked like someone had braided her hair with excruciating tightness, drawing her skin back so that the normal fat pads of the cheeks were strange, oval-shaped lumps too close to her eyes, which seemed almost closed to tiny slits.

She was clearly nervous, very demanding, not particularly good at the banter required of such events. I felt badly for her–how hard she has clearly tried to hang on to what men in my father’s generation venerated to the same degree as, say, Farrah Fawcett. She seemed trapped inside her face. I wanted to rub her scalp and tell her to stop bleaching her hair, that she’s okay as herself, even though I know that for a female actor to accept herself as she ages is often the death of her career. I certainly don’t blame her for trying, but I was saddened by what seemed to be a decision to maim herself in order to stave off old age.

She reminded me, very clearly, of gasping Sally Rand, thanking us for watching her show only weeks before what was likely a lonely death. I felt guilty for being in the crowd that stared at the spectacle.

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Resolutions and Parenting

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I am not a mommy blogger, but I have children. Hell, I have a grandchild and another on the way. So, occasionally, I might write about that.

During our holiday break I found that I was unhappy with the pattern of battling with my child for control. I, the shouting, arm-waving mother, wanted off that ride. I have no chance of directly changing how my child feels about things, but I can change how I react. I told him, “I have resolved not to get mad anymore. Instead, I’m just going to do what I need to do to solve my problem. I’ll not argue with you or negotiate anymore.”

Certain scenarios have therefore changed. If, when it’s time to turn off the XBox, or the TV, or what have you, he refuses, I walk over and turn it off. I have found it does not destroy anything meaningful if he loses his progress in a game or misses the end of some noxious Disney sitcom because he refused the first (and only, hopefully) request to do so.

If he refuses to help with household chores because he is surfing the internet on his laptop, I go online and block his IP address from our router.

If he doesn’t fold and put away his laundry and instead hides it all mashed in a basket, then I take the laundry away.

If he tracks in stickers after being specifically asked not to, they will be redeposited on his bath mat.

Have I created an angelic child? Not yet. But I am amazed at how much less stress I am feeling now that I am preventing my own engagement in the argument. I feel like I can be more loving and present when I am not saturated in my anger and resentment over the constant battle. I can remember why I like him, and I can take back the power that should have been mine all along.

Of course, it’s only January.

 

The Viewer

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I posted the final version of this piece on Facebook. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to start to market myself and my work a bit more aggressively than I had in years past (see: not at all). Someone with whom I am slightly acquainted–our connection to one another arose from my best friend’s murder–commented that she really liked the butterflies. With help from another friend, she was gently corrected that, no, they are moths. Oh well, she said, I will interpret them as butterflies, even though I guess I can see how they might resemble moths.

One of the hardest things for me as an artist is dealing with how people view my work. As a kid, I doodled faces all the time, and others were always asking, “Who are your drawing?” No one, I would mutter, curving my arms around my subject matter protectively. It was seemingly very, very important that I identify who the picture was of, and that made me even more resistant to letting people see my work, particularly when it was unfinished. In college, I took a fair amount of Art History classes, finding the analysis of paintings to be fascinating, and that put me on the other side of the canvas, so to speak. Instead of making it, I was viewing it, and I assigned information to what I viewed based on perceptions shaped by education in the subject. I wondered what the artists would say about criticism and interpretation of their work by people who were born hundreds of years after the works were created.

So, on one side of the table, there’s the artist creating their work, and on the other side there are educated viewers applying theoretical criticism. There’s another sliver on the table, though. People who are ignorant and think that interpretation of a work is open to any viewpoint. The piece features numerous moths, not butterflies. I researched moths, not butterflies. It is a driving point–the piece is not dealing with re-birth (commonly associated with butterflies). My acquaintance who insists she sees butterflies is making an argument that might pair well with an insistence that the sky is actually pink. It is so far off the mark that it is inarguable.

Further engagement with this person would be fruitless; it is a version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, except that it might stop before the child in the crowd pulls the scales from everyone’s eyes. Privately I wonder if this person is aware of how uninformed they sound, or if their opinion is something so exalted that quality is not a factor. I am also reminded of something my father often warned me about. He would say that the most dangerous person in the world is one of moderate intelligence, who knows just enough to know that they are not intellectually superior. That person, my father would say, will fight to the death to preserve the false image that they are more intelligent than they really are.

They are moths, and the sky is blue.

 

New Work

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I just deleted a whole pile of words. Let’s just look at the pictures:

1. Original drawing in pencil on copy paper:

1497660_10152747665295110_495946552_n

 

2. Then I copy it onto a piece of bristol board using a lightbox:

Drawing

 

3. There’s a billion steps between there and here, but essentially I lay in all my under-shading in grays before I start the color work.

20140111_155606

 

4. I start the color work.

Moth almost done

 

5. Then, finalization and my version of background:

Finished Moth 1

 

Photography always masks the depth. But, I’m happy with her. All work copyrighted by me, the artist. Reproduction of said images and/or material is forbidden.

Moth January 14, 2014

Colored pencil and marker.

 

The Odd Anxiety

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When I started my job as a Costume Shop Manager, it was with no real background in theater. By “no real” I mean, none whatsoever. You know how it is when you start a job; the first year feels like you are just following a coworker around learning how things are done. Then, as you warm to it, maybe you start putting your signature on things, consolidating your power base, etc. My job involves some power struggle because I am newer and because if you have more than two people in a room, there’s generally going to be a struggle at some point–it’s human nature.

You often are told that something is “the way it is” that actually isn’t that way at all. It’s just the culture up until you arrived. I’ve been at this job for three and half years and I have never taken a sick day or a day of leave because I was told that a) we don’t take leave during the semester, and b) we have enough flexibility that you can be home sick without having to formally take leave. After all, we work a lot of hours during certain parts of the semester that we aren’t getting paid for. Which is not necessarily true, since we are salaried, but it is also true that working a 60+ hour week sucks and I’m not going to stay at work unless I have something to do.

If you are an HR administrator, the hair on the back of your neck just stood up, right? We’ve got a streak of maverick in how we do things, and a natural Us/Them mentality. It’s just how things are in my workplace. It’s how things have always been. There’s also the pull of the title of BEST or Martyr. “I’ve NEVER had a sick day.” or “I’ve never taken a day of leave.” This is seductive because who doesn’t want to be a hero? It’s just like those kids in school who had the “Perfect Attendance” awards. Is that really realistic? How often did they come to school sick in the name of attendance? It creates a contest where there needn’t be one, but I am competitive and sometimes have to ask myself just why I’m even playing the game. Sometimes it’s better to let someone else win.

Even though I feel entirely justified in taking a Friday and a Monday off, putting that request in writing to my boss made me feel really nervous, even though I know he has no issue with it whatsoever.  I’ll be rocking the boat, and bowing out of the contest. But, also, I’ll be putting my health above my job, and as unpopular as that may be, this past year has reminded me that my health is not something that will just run in the background. I need to tend to it, and also take opportunities when they present themselves. Especially if it means getting a weekend in Santa Fe.

O, Mysteries of the Physical

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Drawing

 

This past summer I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome (EDS), which is a rare genetic disorder in which a defect in the collagen gene results in faulty connective tissue. Collagen makes up the tiny fibers that give connective tissues (from nerve sheaths to tendons to ligaments to vessels and even organs like the skin) their elasticity. Think of them like rubber bands; not only do they stretch out, they also then snap back. The “rubber bands” holding me together are like the ones that are too old–they stretch way out, but they can’t go back and snap into place. People with EDS describe themselves as “bendy” or flexible.

One of the first questions the geneticist asked was if I had been able to amaze my friends with my flexibility as a child. Check. As a child I had no idea what people meant when they said that they couldn’t reach part of their back. I could reach anywhere on my back. I could lay on my stomach and curl my legs upward until they met the back of my head and then I could go even further until I touched my chin with my toes. Naturally, neither I nor my parents had the slightest idea that this might be a bad thing.

There is no treatment for EDS, but there are co-morbidities that can be treated, like Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). The geneticist generously granted me that diagnosis as well. More than just a tendency to feel faint when going from sitting to standing, it’s a form of Dysautonia, which is a nervous system disorder. It means that your sympathetic nervous system is sort of always turned on. Something that might make you a little nervous (going to the doctor to renew meds, for example) results in an overblown physical response. I’m really set at “The Tiger Got Me” all the time. It causes anxiety and insomnia  and IBS, among other things.

There seems to be no predicting when one’s body will decide to initiate trouble. One of the hallmarks of EDS is chronic, difficult-to-treat pain. This was never really an issue for me until a year and a half ago or so, and now it is part of my daily life. It’s hard to accept the notion that I may never again have an entirely pain free day. My job is hard on my body, and I’ve had to already file for ADA accommodations to protect me from lifting too much or injuring myself at work. Currently, my fine motor skills are still functioning, but should those start to go, I will lose my job.

I wear silver ring splints on my fingers to protect those joints, and they are shiny and sparkly and I am sure someday I’ll turn around to find I’m being followed by curious raccoons, who like shiny things. They are very visible and obvious and I spend a ridiculous amount of time explaining them. I’m not the poster child type, so I don’t really care that much about educating people–I would prefer to be left alone with my reality most of the time. I have other splints that I wear on my thumbs which are not pretty jewelry but hold my CMC joints in the right place–important when I am sewing. I have wrist splints I sleep in at night, and others to wear during the day. I have compression deals for my ankles and inserts for my shoes. I’m considering making a steel boned corset to support my back. I’m supposed to have a knee splint but that is another very long story and the short version is that medical incompetence + resistance to looking stupid = I don’t have one.

All of this weighs on me as I prepare to go back to work this semester. Last semester was unusually physically hard, and I felt like I barely made it through, and needed much of this holiday break to recover from it. This coming semester should not be as demanding, but my job remains a physical job and while I am going to stick it out for as long as I possibly can, I don’t want to end up someone who has to crawl into bed as soon as they get home from work and misses big chunks of their life. At this point we have found nothing that helps with pain beyond hot baths (not easy to do at work) and splinting. Someone told me that wearing any kind of splint takes 10% more energy on your part to function with it. Thus, it can be exhausting just to put on ten rings splints and two thumb splints and two wrist splints and two ankle splints–that’s 40% of my energy being used to deal with wearing them.

Most importantly, to me, is that I love my job and I don’t want to lose the ability to do it. Right now I am in a huge creative swing and I think it’s because I feel like I need to make as much stuff as I can before I lose the ability. Maybe I won’t lose it, but I can’t take the risk. I need to make things. Clothes, art, crafts, projects. I need to produce as much as possible as soon as possible. It’s an odd mindset, but that is where I am at, today, in trying to live with EDS.

Hawking My Wares

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I periodically try to figure out who, besides me, would want to shop in an online store that offers fabric, sewing patterns, vintage clothes, and art to wear projects that I am inspired to invent periodically. I would assume that I am not the only “me” in the world, but it’s hard to tell. Today I listed the the necklace I put up on this blog plus another one I was inspired to assemble. Here they both are, decently photographed:

Collar Med 4 Collar Big 1

 

I like them both, and I would buy and or wear them both, so as long as there are a few more of me in the world, they may find homes.

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PS: Former readers of the old blog, I promise this will not just be art. I’ll still talk about stuff that’s more life-related. Stick with me, kids, it’ll get interesting soon enough.

Allowing Myself to Create

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I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I often felt squelched in my artistic pursuits. Like, the time we had watched some TV show about Scotland and they made blood pudding, and I later drew a sheep with a hole in it and blood squirting out (I suddenly dearly wish I had never gotten rid of that drawing) and a parent shrieked, “WHAT ARE YOU DRAWING?” Or doing a sort of Jackson Pollack free-form thing in crayon in school only to be told, sternly, that it was not “a pattern” (that teacher was wrong, it wasn’t a repetitive pattern, but in third grade one doesn’t know that).

I kind of got trained that “playing” and “making art” were not compatible activities, so I started to take my art REALLY SERIOUSLY and sometimes, even, I took it so seriously that I wouldn’t do any work for oh, a year or two. SERIOUSLY SERIOUS, was I.

Lately, at this advanced developmental stage of 44 years old, I’ve been trying to just “fool around” a little in the studio. Mess about. Today, that resulted in this necklace, which came about as I dismantled a shrug I’d made several years ago that was too “something” to sell here. It was fun, and organic, and I actually like and would wear the result. I might even make more of them just for, well, just for FUN.

Neck Experiment 1 Neck Experiment 2

It’s a New Year

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It’s a New Year

I’ll dip my toe into public blogging again, I decided.

Once I blogged publicly at The Well Dressed Recluse, which evolved out of my first blogging experiences with Ilyka Damen at her blog. A lot of things happened around 2005-2007, culminating in the death of my closest friend and her daughter at the hands of her husband, who also took his own life. TWDR became a blog about that event, and grief, and then it became the table on which a huge puzzle was laid out, and I stayed around to collect the pieces to see if it would, ever, make a picture.

Some of the types of people attracted to that puzzle were sorts I didn’t want peeking in at me, and so I finally took the blog down, marked it private, and then started a new one that was anonymous and invitation-only. The problem with blogging privately is the same thing that’s good about blogging privately–I could say anything I wanted, about anything, without concern of repercussions. Which also means it allows me to dwell and sort of gossip rather than interact and exchange.

I’ve decided, now, that maybe not being able to dwell would be a good thing. Is my life interesting enough to others if I am not blogging about a murder/suicide, or talking about people who aren’t there to defend themselves? Is it even possible to, for the most part, talk only about myself and things I have direct ties to? That’s the question I’ve posed. This year, then, I will see if I can figure out an answer.